Baker v. Boeing Co., Civil Action No. 2:18-02574-RMG-MGB

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtMARY GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
PartiesRobert Baker, Plaintiff, v. The Boeing Company, Defendant.
Decision Date19 May 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:18-02574-RMG-MGB

Robert Baker,1 Plaintiff,
v.
The Boeing Company, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 2:18-02574-RMG-MGB

DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA CHARLESTON DIVISION

May 19, 2021


ORDER AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Plaintiff filed this action alleging failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and later amended his complaint to include discriminatory discharge and retaliation under the ADA, and state-law breach of contract claims. (Dkt. No. 1; Dkt. No. 14; Dkt. No. 135.) This matter is before the Court upon the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment,2 (Dkt. No. 206; Dkt. No. 221), Defendant's Motion to Strike (Dkt. No. 256), and Defendant's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's breach of contract claim (Dkt. No. 275). Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(g), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in employment discrimination cases are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned orders that Defendant's Motion to Strike (Dkt. No. 256) be granted, and recommends that Defendant's

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Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 206) be granted in part and denied in part, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 221) be denied, and Defendant's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 275) be granted.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed his initial complaint against Defendant on September 18, 2018, alleging failure to accommodate under the ADA. (Dkt. No. 1.) On December 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint to add wrongful termination and retaliation claims. (Dkt. No. 14.) Defendant filed an answer to Plaintiff's amended complaint on February 12, 2019. (Dkt. No. 22.) The next day, the Court issued a conference and scheduling order for the case. (Dkt. No. 25.)

After requesting and receiving leave to further amend his complaint, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint on July 21, 2020. (Dkt. No. 135.) On August 4, 2020, Defendant filed its Answer to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, along with a Partial Motion to Dismiss, and a Motion to Strike certain portions of the Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. No. 152; Dkt. No. 153; Dkt. No. 154.) On September 2, 2020, the undersigned issued an Order and Report and Recommendation ordering that Defendant's Motion to Strike be granted in part and denied in part and recommending that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss be granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. No. 152.) On September 23, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel adopted the undersigned's Report and Recommendation and, in doing so, dismissed Plaintiff's state-law breach of contract claims in their entirety. (Dkt. No. 180.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a Motion for Reconsideration of Judge Gergel's September 23, 2020 Order and Opinion. (Dkt. No. 185.)

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On October 29, 2020, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages and Establish a Modified Briefing Schedule with respect to their dispositive motions. (Dkt. No. 198.) The Court granted the motion in part on November 3, 2020. (Dkt. No. 201). On November 6, 2020, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's ADA claims (Dkt. No. 206) and a Motion for Summary Judgment on Defendant's counterclaim (Dkt. No. 209). Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on his failure to accommodate claim on November 6, 2020 but was instructed by the Court to refile the Motion because Defendant could not access Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support. (Dkt. No. 220.) Plaintiff refiled his Motion and Memorandum in Support on November 13, 2020. (Dkt. No. 221.) The parties requested and received a further modified briefing schedule. (Dkt. No. 223; Dkt. No. 224; Dkt. No. 226; Dkt. No. 227.)

On December 1, 2020, Plaintiff filed his responses to Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 233; Dkt. No. 237) and Defendant filed its response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 236). On December 11, 2020, Defendant filed its replies to Plaintiff's responses to its Motions for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 248; Dkt. No. 249) and Plaintiff filed his reply to Defendant's response to his Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 251). On December 22, 2020, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Reliance on Supplemental Authority which included a new exhibit, an amended exhibit, and examples of cases that cite to certain Enforcement Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Dkt. No. 255.) Defendant filed a Motion to Strike the Notice of Reliance on December 21, 2020, arguing that the filing constitutes an impermissible sur reply. (Dkt. No. 256.) Plaintiff filed a response to

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Defendant's Motion to Strike on January 14, 2021 (Dkt. No. 259), to which Defendant timely replied (Dkt. No. 260).

On March 19, 2021, the Court ordered that Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration be granted in part, and that Plaintiff's state-law breach of contract claim with respect to Defendant's internal anti-retaliation policy (Count V of the Second Amended Complaint) be reinstated. (Dkt. No. 262.) Because the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment did not address this claim, the Court instructed Defendant to file a supplemental motion for summary judgment limited to this reinstated claim by April 19, 2021. (Dkt. No. 263.) Defendant timely filed its supplemental Partial Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 275.) Plaintiff filed his response on April 26, 2021. (Dkt. No. 278.) Accordingly, the motions before the Court are ripe for disposition. As the Court finds that the issues have been adequately briefed, it has determined that oral argument is not necessary. See Local Civ. Rule 7.06 (D.S.C.).

FACTUAL SUMMARY3

This action arises from Plaintiff's employment with Defendant from 2012 to 2018. (Dkt. No. 135 at 2-3.)4 During that time, Plaintiff performed various engineering-related jobs, including as a composite fabrication quality systems specialist and as a final assembly and delivery employee. (Id.) Plaintiff has a disability which posed no issues in his job as a composite fabrication quality systems specialist but precluded him from doing the manual labor required as a final assembly and delivery employee. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation on account of his disability. (Id. at 2-3.) He contends that

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Defendant failed to properly accommodate him under the ADA and its own internal policies. (Id.) Plaintiff further contends that Defendant discriminated and/or retaliated against him by demoting him and requiring him to take a leave of absence that led to the end of his employment. (Id. at 7-10.)

More specifically, Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a Quality Systems Specialist, Level 4, ("QSS4") in the composite fabrication department in January of 2012. (Dkt. No. 206 at 5; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 9.) In this role, Plaintiff processed nonconforming materials and determined whether the materials should be accepted, reworked, returned to the supplier, or scrapped. (Dkt. No. 206 at 5.) This was an "exempt" position that did not require manual labor. (Dkt. No. 221-2 at 9.) Plaintiff was reassigned to Defendant's material review segregation area ("MRSA") in August of 2014.5 (Dkt. No. 206 at 6; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 9.) His new role required manual labor, including moving boxes and pushing "pallet jacks." (Dkt. No. 206 at 8; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 12.)

In June of 2015, Plaintiff fell while working and suffered an occupational injury. (Dkt. No. 206 at 9; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 12.) Soon after, Plaintiff submitted documentation of medical restrictions (including, inter alia, peripheral neuropathy and chronic disequilibrium) that prevented him from working in MRSA.6 (Dkt. No. 206 at 9.) He requested that Defendant transfer him back to the composite fabrication department or to a similar position that did not require manual labor. (Dkt. No. 221-2 at 12.) Instead,

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Defendant assigned him to "light duty" work in MRSA.7 (Dkt. No. 206 at 10.) This "light duty" work did not require Plaintiff to perform any of the activities prohibited by his physician. (Id.)

Plaintiff provided Defendant with additional documentation regarding his medical restrictions on June 25, 2015.8 (Id.) Plaintiff was then placed on a medical leave of absence. (Dkt. No. 206 at 10; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 19.) When Plaintiff returned from his leave of absence, he was assigned to a "light duty" project. (Dkt. No. 206 at 12; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 19.) The project ended on October 1, 2015, at which time Plaintiff was placed back on medical leave. (Dkt. No. 206 at 12; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 19.)

In August of 2016, Plaintiff submitted further documentation regarding his medical restrictions. (Dkt. No. 206 at 14; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 19.) This documentation explicitly stated that Plaintiff's restrictions were permanent. (Dkt. No. 206 at 14; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 19.) Upon receipt of this documentation, Defendant asked Plaintiff to clarify his restrictions.9 (Dkt. No. 206 at 14; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 19.)

In late October of 2016, Plaintiff was referred to a "Reassignment Focal" (Vickie Crawford) to begin the reassignment process. (Dkt. No. 206 at 15; Dkt. No. 221-2 at 20.) For ninety days,10 Plaintiff worked with Ms. Crawford to find a suitable position for his

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reassignment. (Dkt. No. 206 at 16.) At the end of the ninety-day reassignment period, Plaintiff had not secured a new position. (Id. at 22.) As a result, Defendant placed Plaintiff on extended medical leave and instructed him that he could "continue to perform his own job searches and submit applications while he remained on leave of absence." ( Id.)

In June of 2017, Plaintiff received a layoff notice explaining that his position with Defendant "would be suppressed" in August; however, Plaintiff's effective layoff date was delayed because he was on medical leave. (Dkt. No. 206 at 24; Dkt. No. 237 at 65.) Before...

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